Australian Open Men’s Semi-Final — January 25th, 2013
Andy Murray: – 145
Roger Federer: + 115
__ __ __ __ __ __
Australian Open Women’s Final — January 26th, 2013
Victoria Azarenka: – 145
Na Li: + 115
Tomorrow morning at around 5 AM, Roger Federer and Andy Murray will do battle for the twentieth time, with the winner either having the opportunity to be the first man to go from zero to two majors consecutively, or looking to boost his record major count to a total of 18. The match will be the 2nd ever between them in Australia, and the third on Plexicushion, with Federer memorably winning the last, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11), and leaving the once petulant Briton in a wake of tears (Murray won their first Plexicushion tilt in 3 sets on Indian Wells purple goo in 2009). It will be the 18th matchup between the men played on hard courts, where Murray holds a 9-8 lead at the moment.
We must say we are a bit surprised at these odds, which in defiance of the established norm, do not seem to be giving too much credit to Federer or Azarenka, who we feel should be clear favorites here. We always bring it up, when Roger is a dog, that it’s really rare to lay a bet on Roger when he has a plus by his name. As far as we can tell, international action is dictating these lines, as what smart bettor is really going to lay 145 units to win 100 on Andy Murray? And who is likely to bet against Azarenka on Plexicushion, on which she did not lose last year or this year, for that matter, defaulting to Serena in Hobart because of the toe injury?
Na Li no doubt has received a good deal of respect for her drubbing of Sharapova last night. That may have been the best match she’s ever played, truth be told. But tennis is in the matchups. We think Murray and Li will both have a bit of a different experience as the competition jumps up a few levels, as it has. Li no doubt came to play, and most impressively, she gave Sharapova nothing to work with last night, because we’re sure if given an opening, the battler she is would have made it more of a contest. But to look at Sharapova’s body of work here and get too crazy head over heels for it, when she played nobody but a sub prime Venus Williams, would be a mistake. We suspect that when Venus gets to her see again, as she continues her comeback from Sjogren’s, it will play out differently.
As it would also be a mistake, to look at Murray’s body of work like that, after he waltzed through a collapsed draw. Murray was greatly aided en route to the semis by the upsets of Cilic and Del Potro, something Federer has not benefited from, as Roger has so far beaten 5 top 50 opponents, and is attempting to be the first man to win a major when beating 7 top 50 opponents since he did it in 2010. Just like Federer’s timing was affected by not playing Mardy Fish at the USO in the Round of 16, and not getting in his regular match play, Murray should be affected by not having played anyone good. We thought Gilles Simon might give him a tussle the other night but when we put it on, we concluded after one shot–a forehand slice into the net–that alas he would not. May have helped Murray to miss Monfils as well, who probably wouldn’t have beaten him but who always exacts a toll. On his opponents and himself.
As much as tennis is matchups, it is also timing. Federer has never lost to Murray at a major because, in large part, he makes Murray work so hard to hold serve, and on his own serve, he has staples to win him points that Murray does not. Federer’s timing is peak right now, easily seen by how easily he is hitting the one handed backhand, how many points he’s winning on return of serve, and how sharp his forehand has been. If your timing is bad, the one hander won’t work. You also won’t be dialed in on returns. And as many announcers have pointed out throughout the fortnight, Federer is giving himself plenty of margin on the forehand, content to go for lethal combinations, as he is obviously very comfortable on the court. The other day Roger out aced Raonic, while only allowing the boy something like 6 of 60 baseline points. Murray is going to have to win about 60% of the baseline points to win. We don’t like his chances.
We also feel like Federer is heavily motivated. He was obviously unhappy with the conclusion of his year. He was very unhappy about losing 3 of the last 4 matches he has played to Del Potro, even suggesting at the YEC that his team was being out coached by DP’s team. Because of the schedule, he had much less rest than Djokovic, having to play 3 matches in the last 5 days there, and losing out on his quest to defend the YEC, a trophy he covets. We know that Roger worked very hard in the off season. Unlike Murray, who made his workouts public to a group of British tennis reporters, clowning around on Miami Beach, Federer kept his routines highly guarded. Roger has heard a lot about Murray of late. He is relishing his underdog role, savoring it. We expect him to be very tough in this spot. Also, and of no small consequence, Roger has played most of his matches in Melbourne this year at night. He has become very comfortable with the night conditions, whereas Murray has played in the day light most of the way. Federer is well aware that he lost both of his last 2 semi-finals here, and has adjusted accordingly, we think. We expect classic Roger here. That means a strong start. We also expect the crowd to be in Roger’s favor, which was not the case at the Olympics, and which gave Murray a considerable boost. Slightly faster Plexicushion also aids Federer, who had no real problem with Murray here in 2010 on the slower track.
In the h2h matchup between Li and Azarenka, Vica leads 5-4 and has won 4 straight. Azarenka defeated Li at the YEC in Istanbul to end 2012, and won their last matchup on Plex, which was last year in Sydney. But Li is the last player to beat Azarenka in Melbourne, eliminating her in 3 sets in 2011, which puts the match in an interesting light. We’re sure that Azarenka hasn’t forgotten. She’d be a fool to let a pass a golden opportunity to grab a major without having to go through Serena. And maybe Plexicushion is to thank for that, as Serena would surely have won if the back and ankle were unhindered.
We think a Roger-Azarenka ticket is the way to go. The only way. Then again, we’re frequently wrong.